Sebastien Loeb could only finish in seventh place in the first Super Stage of the Rally of France.

Last Updated: 07/10/12 3:33pm

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Sebastien Loeb: sluggish start

Sebastien Loeb: sluggish start

Sky Bet

Sebastien Loeb's bid to secure a ninth World Rally Championship title in France hit an early stumbling block as he finished the first Super Stage in seventh place.

Loeb has won every World Rally crown since 2004, but he needs to finish ahead of team-mate Mikko Hirvonen to claim this year's title on his home soil and he struggled on the opening day of the Rallye de France Alsace.

Citroen Junior's Belgian driver Thierry Neuville took victory on the single stage of 3.63km in Strasbourg, while Hirvonen was two places ahead of Loeb in fifth.

There are seven stages on Friday and they will give a clear indication of whether Loeb is likely to defend his crown yet again.

"It would be great to do this but we have to get through a really tough rally first," he said.

"The conditions are difficult on the stages and they are really fast. It will be a good weekend, I just hope there is not the same problem as last year."

Loeb will not compete full-time next year and hinted before the start of the race that he has an idea of when and where he will race.

"Really we didn't plan anything special, just that we start in Monte Carlo and finish the season here, why not?" he said. "But it's not decided, the ideal number would be between four and five (rallies)."

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